SUTTON – Every Christmas, Vaillancourt Folk Art transforms its 12,000-square-foot retail gallery into a winter wonderland by displaying hundreds of decorations. And the feeling lingers even when the decorations go down, with the gallery’s shelves filled year-round with more than 2,000 different Santa Claus figurines.
All that cheer has made Vaillancourt a destination that attracts 20,000 visitors a year, most of them arriving from outside New England.
But as much of Vaillancourt’s business shifts online, founders Gary and Judy Vaillancourt have had to rethink the future of the brick-and-mortar gallery.
To do that, they’ve turned to the jolly fellow that has served as the unofficial face of the business. Vaillancourt, 9 Main St., reopened the gallery this month with a new focus on celebrating Christmas, and Santa, all year long.
“During the Christmas season, the store is decorated unbelievably, and it’s inspiring to see the expressions on the faces of the people who walk in,” said Luke M. Vaillancourt, the gallery’s vice president of operations. “We’re trying to create a little bit of that all year round.”
Vaillancourt has seen a dip in its wholesale business to catalogs, department stores, and mom and pop shops. Early on, wholesale accounted for 60 percent of Vaillancourt’s revenue, with retail making up 30 percent. Those numbers have since flipped, with most of the retail sales occurring online.
Mr. Vaillancourt said that in addition to having Christmas decorations up throughout the year, the gallery will sell more holiday ornaments from outside vendors. The move, he said, is aimed at generating excitement about the retail store and museum.
In a statement, Judi Vaillancourt called the decision to focus on Christmas an easy one. Indeed, Vaillancourt owes a lot to Old Saint Nick, the star of the holiday, having built a thriving art business on his likeness.
Ms. Vaillancourt started designing her chalkware Santa figurines at the family home in Sutton in 1984. Three years later, the family moved to a larger farmhouse, where they opened the first retail store. The Main Street gallery opened in 2008.
Now nearly 35 years old, Vaillancourt has amassed a collection of thousands of figurine Santas and Father Christmases, all displayed in myriad colors and poses. Its pieces have sold at some of the most well-known stores in the world, Mr. Vaillancourt said, including the Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly in London and Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.
Last year, Vaillancourt notched just under $2 million in revenue.
“Selling Santa Clauses,” Mr. Vaillancourt said, may not seem like much of a business, but it has allowed the gallery to hire and maintain 20 employees, including five full-time artists who work on site hand-painting each figurine.
To go along with the renewed focus on Christmas, Vaillancourt has created a new brand with a Victorian Christmas tree. The gallery has also dropped “folk art” from the brand, as it now considers its pieces fine art.
“We’re not changing from a legal standpoint our name or corporation, but we are looking at refocusing just on Vaillancourt and kind of getting away from the folk art,” Mr. Vaillancourt said. “Folk art is an untrained art form. We really have focused on fine art quality.”
While Mr. Vaillancourt does not expect in-store sales to jump enough to compete with online sales, he does believe the Christmas theme will place a greater emphasis on the gallery and museum. The gallery will be open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The hope is that more people visit so they can see the pieces – more than 3,000 figurines – and the artists who work on them up close.
“The true experience is coming into the store, seeing the art and the artists,” he said. “It’s a place where you can enjoy the happy memories of Christmas. And you need to disconnect from the outside world every now and then.”
Tota, M. (2018, March 25). Vaillancourt Folk Art goes year-round with Christmas. Worcester Telegram and Gazette, pp. D3-D6. Retrieved March 26, 2018, from http://www.telegram.com/news/20180321/vaillancourt-folk-art-goes-year-round-with-christmas